John Gorka, one of today’s modern folk legends, took the stage at Fort Collins’ Midtown Arts Center Saturday for a night of peaceful, sit down music.
The theater itself was relatively small. It was no bigger than your average movie theater. The stage was decorated with Gorka’s sticker covered guitar case, keyboard, guitar, g-sharp guitar, and it was absolutely covered in various wires. The audience was full of baby boomers and generation x-ers taking selfies and talking about their kids.
Gorka walked out on stage wearing a blazer and blue jeans looking very casual and ready to entertain and connect with his audience. From his first song to his last, you could hear everyone tapping their feet against the sticky floor of the theater to the sound of the beat.
Throughout his set, it became very clear that Gorka is an artist and appreciates other artists. We saw this in his “Prince’s When Doves Cry” cover to start the show, his song about Jack Kerouac and his appreciation for Jackson Browne, quoting Browne’s song “Running on Empty” as advice to future musicians.
He was, for lack of a better term, a precious old man. He would stutter and stammer to get his sentences out, he would forget what he was doing, walking between his keyboard and guitar, and would thank the audience after every song for clapping for him.
“I was never all that comfortable doing the performing part,” Gorka said. “I was kind of shy and awkward. I was drawn to the performing more than I was comfortable doing it, but I just did it as much as I could.”
This past July, Gorka released a new collection of previously never heard clips of his music in an album titled “Before the Beginning.”
“It’s the newest and oldest record at the same time,” Gorka said. “It was recorded in 1985 but it never came out.”
The tapes travelled from city to city to eventually ending up in Minnesota where they laid untouched until he finally decided to bake the tapes by heating them up so that they would be playable. Realizing they were good, he decided to release them.
Through his set list, he took us through the journey of his past from before he released his first album to his brief blues phase as well as throughout various points in his life regarding love, politics and daily life through the eyes of a New Jersey boy turned Minnesotan.
A lot of his songs started by simply asking the audience what they would like to hear and him choosing from the requests being shouted back. Between each song, Gorka would interact with the audience telling anecdotes that lead up to him writing the song he was introducing or even just joshing around with the audience telling silly jokes.
Gorka’s song vary in their different themes and messages as well as their comedic value. He played crowd favorites like “I Saw a Stranger with Your Hair,” “Love is our Cross to Bear” and “People My Age.”
“Songs can come from anywhere,” Gorka said. “They can come from something I hear someone say to something I read or from something like a lick on the guitar. I just have to be open to the possible ways a song can come through.”
In his more political songs, and occasionally in between songs, he would subtly jab at Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump.
The show in its entirety was rawly Gorka. It was him alone on stage commanding the audience’s attention with his smooth, folk voice and instrument accompaniment. He was the show. There were no gimmicks with lights, or fog or anything. It was him and the audience making it a truly authentic show.
“I have high standards, low overhead and realistic expectations,” Gorka said.
Gorka is now a family man, making his touring life different in that he can and wants to only tour for small outbursts allowing for him to spend time with his family in Minnesota. Gorka described this tour as “one huge tour divided into tiny segments.” He even joked that all the money the audience spent on tickets and merchandise goes straight into his child fund.
Folk music has been in the news more and more with thanks to famous folk singer songwriter Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in literature earlier this month.
“Folk music wasn’t the most popular [when I started playing]” Gorka said. “I think it will stay a healthy kind of music.”
On Dylan winning the Nobel Prize, Gorka said, “I’m glad that they referred to him as a folk singer when they gave him that prize. I like also that it seemed to make a lot of fiction writers mad.”
For Gorka fans, keep on the lookout for announcements for new music.
“I’ve got some songs that I’ve got to get out of the notebook and see if I can record them,” Gorka said.